By Mark Hussein, CEO at HSBC Life (UK) Ltd and Head of UK Insurance HSBC
More than 600,000 people are alive in the UK today after a diagnosis of breast cancer and the charity Breast Cancer Now, estimates that number could double to 1.2 million within just eight years.
These are positive figures to focus on during the charity’s vital campaign Breast Cancer Awareness Month which it has supported since 1985. Sadly, however, there are less positive statistics too. Breast cancer remains the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the UK. The condition kills 11,500 women and 85 men a year in the UK. One in seven women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime and this October nearly 5,000 people will be diagnosed with the condition.
In recent years, the protection insurance industry has substantially enhanced the breast cancer support it provides as an essential part of critical illness policies. This has included product developments and innovations as well as focusing on ensuring that claims are paid as quickly as possible whilst being handled sensitively.
Increasing support at vulnerable times
A diagnosis of breast cancer is obviously a major event in anyone’s life with the immediate impact on physical and mental health compounded by the effect on families. The emphasis should be on helping people to cope with the diagnosis while focusing on recovery and recuperation. That is where protection insurance can and is playing an important role.
Over and above the financial benefits, protection policies now offer a range of improved support and value added services such as second medical opinions and access to mental health support and physiotherapy.*
Claims can be paid out within days and pay out rates are reassuringly high. At HSBC Life, for instance, we have paid 100% of of all breast cancer claims received in the first half of this year across all our protection products. That compares to a 2021 payout rate of 98.6%.
Protection insurers very much want to pay claims but, in reality, not all providers are equal – the Association of British Insurers (ABI) reports the industry average Critical Illness claim paid rate in 2021 was slightly lower (91%) than ours (95.5%).
Ask the experts
Providers recognise that advisers play a crucial role in ensuring that clients receive the best possible support. Advisers must be aware of the full range of support available to clients, and the differences in Critical Illness policies across the market. With over 130 conditions covered across the market, it’s never been more complex for advisers to choose between critical illness policies: especially in the case of breast cancer.
Many advisers will be well-aware of CIExpert, which enables them to rank protection policies based on a wide range of criteria, and increasingly places a focus on quality of cover rather than price, which I believe this is a good system. Advisers can see that levels of cover and maximum pay-outs have been enhanced, with some providers offering less advanced breast cancer additional payments as standard, on products that provide a one-off payment on top of the policy sum assured. The CIExpert system provides independent and impartial data to advisers about protection products on the market, importantly they can consider both the age and sex of the customer when determining the most suitable product based on claims data and the cover the insurer will provide.
Alan Lakey, director at CIExpert noted, “Gender has an extremely important role to play when we assess the relative values of plans. Whilst the industry typically pays around 64% of all claims for cancer the actual gender breakdown is just over 50% for males and close to 80% for females. Such differentials are essential when we analyse plan differences for males and females.”
At HSBC Life, we offer ABI-plus standard definitions which enable us to consider claims which other insurers may not. For example, a customer receiving a payment of £84,000 within two days of making a claim on a Critical Illness policy, and a payment of £130,000 within one day of notifying HSBC Life (which cleared the customer’s mortgage).
These are life changing decisions. And we don’t take this privilege for granted. I am proud that our ‘Critical Illness Plus’ offering has one of the highest pay outs in the industry – £50,000 or 50% of the policy sum assured whichever is lower; whilst our ‘Standard’ offering provides £25,000 or 25% of the policy sum assured. Of course, critical illness covers more than breast cancer, and that’s why our Plus product covers 50 conditions, and our Standard product covers 39.
Offering comprehensive cover is all well and good, but claims support is even more important as insurers are helping customers at their most vulnerable. I urge advisers to make themselves aware of the full range of support available, across both the claims experience as well as the differences in policies.
Protection insurance providers have substantially enhanced the support and services they offer to breast cancer patients; a truth highlighted by the speed of pay-outs and wide range of other non-financial help. I firmly believe that advisers continue to play a crucial role in ensuring their clients are fully aware of all the support available.
*HSBC Life Online Health Services is a non-contractual benefit provided by Square Health. This is linked to the type of policy held and provides clients with different health benefits for them and their family.